Bishop Dwenger’s Maggie Peters might dominate Junior Nationals at Turnstone

Maggie Peters' favorite stroke is the butterfly. (Courtesy photo)
Bishop Dwenger freshman-to-be Maggie Peters competes in the long jump in an event earlier this summer. (Courtesy photo)
Maggie Peters

Maggie Peters is a completely normal, typical, ordinary 14-year-old girl. Except…

The Bishop Dwenger freshman-to-be loves to laugh, read, wants to write and excels at trying out every sport and then exceeding. She attacks athletics with passion to spend the necessary time getting the correct footwork, pacing and fundamentals memorized, and then she quickly improves.

So far, she’s narrowed her activities down to swimming about six events, competing in seven or so track and field events and her latest passion is competing in triathlons — a combination of swimming, bike riding and running. She already holds national records for her age division in the long jump, discus and shot put. She’s already qualified for junior nationals in more than 15 events, including archery though there aren’t enough competitors.

How have we never heard of this wunderkind before? Oh, you will.

There are two unique things about Peters, one that everybody notices and she doesn’t care, and the other that no one ever notices — and she really doesn’t care about that one. A few years ago her hair fell out because of alopecia, though some swimming parents suspect she’s so hardcore that she shaves it for competitions. That’s not the big thing. Because she was born prematurely at 25 weeks in the car on the way to the hospital, Peters’ lungs were underdeveloped and that affected her eyesight with retinopathy of prematurity, meaning she’s blind in her right eye and has 200-20 vision in her left. She’s legally blind.

“It didn’t affect me very much,” she said. “People stared at me weird, but that’s OK. When you are a little kid, it doesn’t really matter much. This is who you are, so you just get used to it.”

There will be lots of people looking at Peters this weekend during the Adaptive Sports USA Junior Nationals at Turnstone. The event starts Sunday and continues through Friday. More than 300 athletes ages 22 and younger are expected to participate.

Adaptive Sports Junior Nationals schedule of events

It’s only a rumor that Peters is going to participating in all the events, though her parents Greg and Beth and brothers Mason and Cooper would just yell louder. She’s qualified in 10 swimming events, seven more in track and field and the triathlon which will include a 200-meter swim, a six-mile bike ride and a 1,600-meter run. What she’s most excited about? That there’s going to be a goalball clinic, which is a sport she’s only allowed to dabble in because of the potential for a head injury that could affect the rest of her eyesight.

“No one has ever told me to specialize,” she said. “I love doing everything and I think doing all of these helps me in other sports.”

Her dream is eventually to pick one or two sports and try for the Paralympics, the Olympics for those with physical challenges.

“I think it’s interesting how far she’s come, how much confidence this place has given her,” Beth said while sitting at Turnstone. “For a long time, it was heartbreaking as a parent to keep telling her `No,’ because the doctors wouldn’t let her. She couldn’t play baseball or soccer, but now we don’t really have to have those tough discussions anymore because she has a place where she’s at home. We’re just really proud of her.”

But how does someone who is blind learn when to leap for a long jump?

“She could easily have said, `Coach, I don’t think I can do this,’ but there wasn’t anything that was too difficult for her,” Turnstone track coach Bob Walda said. “She was always, `Let me try.’ She’s a great athlete and is somehow able to visualize it and do it. I say we never want to limit her to anything.”

Walda tells the story of a track practice where he started working with Peters at 6:20 p.m. on a long jump. Though the practice was supposed to end at 7 p.m., they went until 7:40 before she finally nailed the technique.

“She’d miss the board early on but she never came out with her head down,” Walda said. “She always had a smile on her face.”

He even put her in a relay, though one of the handoffs had to come on her blindside. She understood the challenge and accepted it, Walda said.

Three Rivers Aquatics coach Laura Hammes has worked with Peters for two years.

“We don’t treat her any differently,” Hammes said. “I don’t know what her disability is, and I still couldn’t tell you the name. She just got in there and did what everybody else was doing. It doesn’t holder her back that I can see. If she thinks she can do it, she will go for it.”

Peters’ only real limitation might turn out to be her 5-foot height, but she might even find a way to work through that, especially if she can figure out a favorite sport or event or two.

“She is a special person and it would not surprise me if she changes lives for thousands of people,” Walda said. “The things you learn as a coach and pass it on, she puts in her toolbox and walks away with it. She’s an inspiration to me.”

Peters is definitely not normal in that way.